As I settled down to my hot chocolate in the scruffy comfort of Camden’s Oh! Bar, I was aware of feeling rather dull and middle-aged. Not really the right approach to a school night gig, full of (surprisingly enough), schoolkids. However, even the sprightly larks of the youthful fanbase were dulled by the extraordinarily long wait to prepare the stage for the one-man band that is Mark Mathews. (He brought his own guitar for goodness sake).
After an hour’s delay, I had got thoroughly into my book and wasn’t really in the mood for a rock onslaught. I needn’t have worried; Mathews is as inoffensive as clean laundry blowing in the wind on a summer’s day. The only thing making me grimace was the ubiquitous curse of the sound man, who ensured Mathews had the acoustic quality of a man singing from the bottom of his bathtub.
Still, it couldn’t dull the pleasantry of the evening or Mathews’ easy charm. The songs are simple old-fashioned melodies, in the ilk of The Beatles (minus half the band). Mathews side-steps the nail-scrapingly awful ‘anguish’ so revered by James Blunt and co, and sticks to the tried and tested ‘she don’t love me anymore but I’ll be ok’ formula.
Mathews can hold a note and sings with confident agility, but the subject matter is clichéd, with a bittersweet candyfloss sentiment you’ve heard a thousand times before. ‘How can you miss me when I’m there by your side/ I know I said I hated you but when I spoke I lied’ etc etc.
The riffs are simple and over-repeated – the only hint at improvisation comes in the pauses when Mathews isn’t singing, and even this metaphorical stretching of his legs is cut disappointingly short. In his likeable humility, maybe he worries the crowd won’t indulge any self-indulgent experimentation? Personally, I thought a bit of egotistical strumming was well overdue.
Mathews’ self-effacing manner was highlighted in his genuine thanks to the crowd for choosing to watch him rather than the local football derby. It was at this point that I felt like removing the microphone from him and ‘bigging him up’ in the style of an annoying stand-up compere.
Mathews clawed back some attitude in the final track of the night, ‘To Be Someone’. A song about cocaine users, this has a far grittier Richard Ashcroft edge that got my toe-tapping. Interestingly enough, it’s this song that really gets the crowd going and sparks the demand for an encore.
Let’s bring the ego back, I say.